Rove’s donors were no exception to this trend, meaning he needed to do something to unruffle their feathers. Fast. “This is all about the donors,” says another veteran strategist. And what better way to make a statement to donors than to formulate a brand-new strategy and splash it across the front page of the paper of record? Message: lessons learned. Course correction set. “This is a follow-the-shiny-ball strategy,” the strategist argues. “It’s smart to get donors focused on the future, focused on a new mission right away as opposed to waiting.”

As for the backlash among purists, some political watchers assume this too is all part of the larger plan. How better to reassure anxious donors that their distaste for Akin-like candidates is shared than to poke a stick in the eye of the party’s anti-establishment forces—and, for good measure, to do so in the newspaper that symbolizes all that hard-core conservatives despise? Rove isn’t an idiot, Republicans point out. He may have simply calculated that it was worth the short-term beating in order to show his donors some love, and thus live to fight another day.

Most establishment Republicans seem confident that this skirmish will peter out soon enough. “While the rhetoric may be heated right now, it will calm down,” insists Georgette Mosbacher, a finance co-chair of the Republican National Committee. The anti-establishment folks, of course, vehemently disagree. “The genie is out of the bottle,” says Deace. “This thing will run its course. One side will win, and one side will lose.”